When Edgar Guevara took over M Crowd Restaurant Group as president and CEO about six years ago, the brands that others before him popularized had reached a crossroads.
“I think we lost our soul a little bit,” he said in a recent interview with The Dallas Express. “For me, it was about getting everybody energized and excited again. We make great food from scratch, so we need to make sure we provide service levels that people expect.”
That meant getting back to the basics of what makes Mi Cocina — one of three North Texas restaurant concepts owned by M Crowd — so respected and loved by its customers.
“It’s bringing back a little bit of the Mexican influences,” Guevara, 56, said. “A lot of it is just going back to being a collection of neighborhood restaurants. We started behaving like a chain. I wanted to manage our restaurants locally. Our guests in Rockwall are different than our guests in Highland Point. Our restaurants might be a little bit unique based on the markets we’re in.”
M Crowd has 23 Mi Cocina restaurants in Texas and Oklahoma, the first of which opened in 1991 with help from Michael Rodriguez, Ray Washburne, Dick Washburne and Bob McNutt in the Preston Forest neighborhood of Dallas. Two years later, another Mi Cocina opened at Highland Park Village, according to its website.
By 1998, M Crowd added its Taco Diner brand, highlighting the bold flavors found in Mexico City taquerias. The same year, M Crowd ventured into fine dining with the opening of The Mercury. That restaurant features new American cuisine prepared with Mediterranean and French influences.
“It’s always three things we focus on at M Crowd,” Guevara said. “We only use the highest-quality ingredients, only making things from scratch. Then, the ambiance helps kind of bring the entire experience together. It’s the same model we have at Mi Cocina.”
Next spring, M Crowd plans to open Vaqueros at Watters Creek Village in Allen after Guevara teamed up with Arnulfo “Trey” Sanchez to expand his Grapevine-based food truck, Vaqueros Texas Bar-B-Q, into a stand-alone restaurant in Allen. The menu is set to showcase the founder and pitmaster’s diverse culinary mastery and incorporate items such as frozen palomas, margaritas and beer.
“It’s a significantly different experience because it’s barbecue,” Guevara said. “We’re building a great smoker room. We just ordered a couple 1,000-gallon smokers. It’s a little bit of a bar setting there, where you walk up and order a cocktail before you order and maybe after you order. It ties in great history with the margaritas and some of the cocktails we create.”
Sanchez grew up in the barbecue business with his father, Arnold Sanchez, who started winning barbecue chili cook-offs in 1979, as The Dallas Express has previously reported. A decade later, Arnold’s Texas Bar-B-Q was opened in East Dallas, and Trey and friend Don Glasco managed the restaurant until 1999, when Arnold opened Western special event and production company Silverado Ranch.
Trey’s work as a pitmaster has been featured on the Cooking Channel’s “Man Fire Food” and “Man’s Greatest Food” and was included on the New York Times’ “The 20 Best Texas Barbecue Restaurants for the New Generation” list earlier this year.
“Trey’s a natural fit with us,” Guevara said. “His expertise in cooking and brisket and taking it to the next level with Mexican influences is natural fit for us. Culturally, he’s a great fit. I get a lot of joy out of helping people get the best product out to as many people we can. He’s a great guy and we hit it off from the start. We’re just focusing on making sure we provide a great experience for people and making it a great neighborhood restaurant just like all the Mi Cocina restaurants we have.”
The expansion represents an upward trend for Guevara who, like countless others in the restaurant industry during the COVID era, had to make difficult decisions if they hoped to stay in business.
“I’ve always said probably the most difficult time in my career was when I had to furlough people,” he said. “When I got here (in 2017), we spent days talking to some of our most tenured chefs. I wanted them to understand how we used to do it versus how we do it now, just getting the recipes to how we were doing things 30 years ago. The pandemic taught us that we were able to get our menu back to a place more consistent with what we had done when the brand started. It allowed us to really understand what local meant.”
That has translated into more success, according to Guevara.
“We were working on a lot of the basics, making sure we were getting recipes correct. Coming out of the pandemic, a lot of restauranteurs had fabulous years. We’ve seen growth now, and I think that allows us to understand what our consumers are looking for a little bit more,” he said.
M Crowd employs nearly 2,000 workers.